The title explains it all.

Yes I know and I have read the:

From Stack Exchange Inc. We welcome questions that are clear and specific, representing real problems that you face; Stack Exchange is not the place for conversation, opinions, or socializing.

Let me be clear this is not an attempt to socialise or chat, but an attempt to improve this site(s).

This is an attempt to answer some of the questions how to successfully moderate = interact with your users in oder to make SE Inc. more successful.

Some of the questions get closed or deleted with reference to read he FAQ (dummy).

Already here it is clear that the system needs improvement, in not deleting (CLOSING) but rather MOVING the discussion to a proper place.

Example: If I think of a (new) person as a customer, I would explain to them the way to the toilet in the restaurant. If I think of them as a user (a walk in from the street), I will not, or tell them to follow the FAQ (the signs).

The question and the argument here is:

Are the users also the customers of Stack Exchange Inc and should be treated as such? I believe they are, even if they do not pay for it (I do not pay for Facebook or Twitter).

Once that is clear, many topics on how to moderate will be easier to answer.

But then I might be completely wrong, thus my question "customer or not"?

Just to add some facts: http://www.stanford.edu/class/ee204/Publications/Finding%20a%20Growth%20Business%20Model%20at%20Stack%20Overflow.pdf

I have also forwarded this question to Michael Pryor - CFO.

  • 4
    Customer implies payment. That is, you are a customer if you paid for the service. Are you a customer?
    – Oded
    Apr 3, 2013 at 8:50
  • Terminology ! If they are treated as customer would you treat the differently. How do you think SE inc. gets they founding? On basis of what? Facebook went Public and the owners made a lots of money (from not paying customers)? SE inc. has exactly the same intentions (business plan). Apr 3, 2013 at 9:07
  • 1
    Terminology is important. If you didn't pay for the service, why do you have expectations that you are owed anything?
    – Oded
    Apr 3, 2013 at 9:11
  • 10
    If Stack Exchange owes somebody something, it's the community of expert answerers who provide value to the site, and make it a valuable resource. Those experts are frequently annoyed when people repeatedly post off-topic questions. So closing them is a kind of customer service.
    – Pekka
    Apr 3, 2013 at 9:21
  • 2
    @Benalmadena: "Terminology !" Yes; it's called language. If you use the wrong words, people get the wrong idea. So be specific on what you're talking about. Apr 3, 2013 at 9:31
  • THey are not paid Apr 3, 2013 at 18:47
  • Yes they are! your management uses us to get more money! So if I work somewhere for free, to create a wealth for someone, am I a slave or what would you call that. Apr 3, 2013 at 19:24
  • If you feel like a slave go to other sites. It's that easy. Nobody is holding you here or anywhere over the internet. For the record at first I thought you have a point here and upvoted this, now I understand your real motive and strongly disagree thus reverted my vote. Apr 3, 2013 at 22:09
  • an example for user vs customer respect: closed as not constructive by Mad Scientist, hims056, bluefeet, Diago, psubsee2003 23 hours ago As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. ** It is tagged Discussion! A tag for questions that may not necessarily have a clear-cut right or wrong answer and are often subjective. If it's not a bug or feature-request, it is probably a discussion. Apr 4, 2013 at 10:57
  • See: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/107073/… for reasons why closing as "Not Constructive" is used on Meta. Apr 4, 2013 at 13:26

3 Answers 3


I think the question itself is one of semantics and ultimately is irrelevant. Your basic question is about how someone should be treated by the staff and other patrons of SO.

Well, consider this:

If a customer walks into a restaurant, orders a meal, and then starts acting like a fool, disrupting the dining experience for other guests, that customer will be asked to leave. And if they don't do so voluntarily, they will be forced to do so. They generally won't be allowed back afterwards.

So there is precedent for a customer not being treated well by the management. Customers don't get to do whatever they want. The customer is Not Always Right, and management always reserves the right to refuse service if someone is not behaving appropriately. So the question I suppose is this:

How should users of SO be treated?

And the answer is quite obvious: they should be treated like a patron to a restaurant. If they follow the rules and aren't disruptive, everything's fine. If they break the rules, they get thrown out.

If I think of a person as a customer, I would explain to them the way to the toilet in the restaurant.

This also requires you to think of yourself as an employee, since they are the only people for whom the term "customer" even matters. Moderators are not employees; employees are people who get paid to perform a service.

Also, I'm pretty sure if a customer in a restaurant can't find the toilet and, instead of asking where it is, decides to... um, leave a "present" on the table for the wait staff, they will be asked to leave/thrown out. Because that's what we're talking about: someone has made a mess, and the janitor (ie: moderators) are cleaning it up so that it doesn't disrupt the patrons who know how to follow signs or ask where the toilet is.

So again, your analogy fails; even if they are customers, you're forgetting that these customers are behaving badly.

  • I like your answer, but unfortunately I can not vote, so consider this a thumbs up. Apr 3, 2013 at 10:24
  • Just to comment: It is not irrelevant if one wants to improve the website and attract more users. The question should have been : Are the users also customers to the Moderators and the representatives of SE Inc. Key objective of a moderator should be to enhance the operations while gaining more users. Apr 3, 2013 at 10:40
  • nice answer +1 from here Apr 3, 2013 at 18:48
  • @Benalmadena - To the modified question, the answer is "no". Moderators are elected from among the users, by the users, and they continue to be users even after the election. So moderator-user is still a patron-patron relation, or at other times a patron-newcomer relation. Apr 3, 2013 at 20:16
  • Agree, with exception: Moderators are human exception handlers, there to deal with those (hopefully rare) exceptional conditions that should not normally happen, but when they do, they can bring your entire community to a screaming halt — if you don’t have human exception handling in place. Apr 3, 2013 at 21:13
  • Lets clear this discussion once for all. The SE Inc. is making money because we are here and using its product. If we were not here, no profit, so that should answer the question who we are. Apr 3, 2013 at 21:17
  • @Benalmadena: There's another word for people who you need to be there, without whom there would be no profit: employees. So no, it doesn't answer the question, especially since it's not clear whether SO is the "product" at all. SO could be considered the office where the product is produced. Apr 3, 2013 at 23:49
  • I do not understand you. SE Inc. has employees! About 200 of them. SO is a product made by SE Inc. made by Jeff Szczepanski - VP of Products and by David Fullerton - VP of Engineering, just to name few. Apr 4, 2013 at 8:15
  • @Benalmadena: ... and? You're the one trying to ascribe a traditional business model dynamic to a business that does not operate in a traditional manor. Traditionally, the people who use the stuff you make pay for it, and are therefore customers. That's not what happens on SO. The people they profit from are not the people who use SO. And the technical employees of SE are not responsible for making it a good product. My question to you is this: what does it matter if we are "customers" or not? Why should we care one way or another? Stop trying to fit an round peg into a square hole. Apr 4, 2013 at 9:01
  • What exactly am I trying to achieve here is: Change the fundamental attitude. I believe the the term user vs customer has an impact on ones behavior. In other words, if I think of you as a customer who came here to ask me a question because I offer expert answers, I will treat you accordingly. On the other hand if I think of you somewhat derogative term as a free-be user (one of millions) that would have a different response. So, it has nothing to do what are we called, but how do we interact with each other. Apr 4, 2013 at 10:52
  • 1
    @Benalmadena: So this is an XY problem. You're actually asking about something else, but you're trying to couch it in some oddball language. Well we're not buying it. If you want to "change the fundamental attitude" (of what?), then you should ask about that, not about nebulous semantic nonsense like whether we should be considered "customers" by some arbitrary metric. Apr 4, 2013 at 11:38
  • @Benalmadena: BTW, the reason why you, as an employee, might treat a "customer" in a different way is because they're paying you. Treating them badly means not getting money. I'm not paying SO, its moderators, or its users. So no, we are not customers. And certainly not of each other. Apr 4, 2013 at 11:40
  • @NicolBolas, sorry, I tried to be clear in the OP what is this all about. Apr 4, 2013 at 11:57
  • @Benalmadena: Trying to get SO to change its moderation practices by convincing users that they are both customers and employees of SO is not going to be effective (even if you're just talking about moderators and not regular high-rep users, moderators are users of SO, not employees). Apr 4, 2013 at 12:11
  • @Benalmadena: See my edit. Apr 4, 2013 at 12:19

Customer: one that purchases a commodity or service

So, no Stack Exchange users are not customers.

But let's assume for argument's sake that Stack Exchange users are customers. How does that justify you (continuously) posting off topic answers? Are you the kind of person that goes into a coffee shop, buys a latte (thus becoming a customer) and then spray paints on the shop's walls?

  • 1
    Using your example: I walk in to a coffe shop and they are offering free coffe! Am I still a customer ? SE inc. exists to make profit. How can they do that if they do not have any customers. You can call that users but in the business world they are customers. What do you think the cofounder of SE inc.(Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky) are presenting to they investors. User = Customer! Apr 3, 2013 at 9:12
  • 5
    @Benalmadena Ok then, as a Stack Exchange customer myself I reserve the right to complain to Stack Exchange Inc every time another customer is being disruptive and disrespectful. And thankfully I have very easy ways to do that, flags and down, close and delete votes. The same of course goes for the Stack Exchange customers who deleted your off topic answers.
    – yannis
    Apr 3, 2013 at 9:18
  • NO, to each other we are users, to the SE inc. we are customers. to the representatives (paid or not) ie. moderators, we are customers. Apr 3, 2013 at 10:21
  • 1
    I find it extremely hard to follow your arguments, so I think this would be the best time for me to leave this discussion. Bye.
    – yannis
    Apr 3, 2013 at 10:28
  • 1
    @Benalmadena The users on StackOverflow are not customers, they are ultimately the product - just as on Facebook and all the other sites where a lot of user get to do stuff for free. These sites usually make their revenue from ads and from some unique insight their particular users give them. I don't know for certain, but would think that SO make a lot on the Careers site, as they can combine knowledge of a given user's abilities with what an employer requests, giving them a unique advantage in that respect.
    – user213634
    Apr 3, 2013 at 12:18
  • hmmm. I would say it is oppositie, the Stack exchange is a product offered to users, who in turn are used by the owners to make money with it. Apr 3, 2013 at 12:29

Your base assumption that Facebook or Twitter have customers is wrong. They have users, exactly the same as Stack Exchange sites.

More than that, I found an interesting article explaining that people who use Facebook are actually product, neither users nor customers:

Ask yourself who is paying for Facebook. Usually the people who are paying are the customers. Advertisers are the ones who are paying. If you don't know who the customer of the product you are using is, you don't know what the product is for. We are not the customers of Facebook, we are the product. Facebook is selling us to advertisers

In case of Stack Exchange the people using the sites are just users; nothing more and nothing less.

  • You have been promoted to the privileges of a moderator. That also means that you now REPRESENT the SE Inc company. Just to add, maybe semantics what you call them, the GACT remains that there is money behind. Thus how many of us are here. In other words, the amount of money the SE Inc gets from investors will depend on that. Apr 3, 2013 at 10:27
  • FACT :( sorry for the typo Apr 3, 2013 at 10:35
  • 2
    @Benalmadena no, I don't represent anything. I am ordinary user exactly like you, who just happens to earn more reputation thus gain some privileges. You are not my customer and I'm not your service provider, we are both on the same level exactly. Same for ALL users. Apr 3, 2013 at 11:32
  • 1
    D'oh! I posted a comment to this effect before seeing you had already given this answer! Right on! Apr 3, 2013 at 18:18

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